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 ~ ©GRAHAM ULMER

Indian Summer in the Puget Sound


By Graham Ulmer
ALL IMAGES OPEN IN LIGHTBOX ©Graham Ulmer

The Puget Sound coastline extends approximately 1,332 miles, with about 170 islands within its borders, each with unique dimensions, topography, and character.

On the east, you can find Mt. Rainier, the jagged peaks of the Cascades, and the bright orange rising sun in the morning. To the west, you'll find the smaller but equally stunning Olympic Mountains. And for four months out of the year, Southern California's weather makes its way up to the area, warming up the cool waters and inviting residents to get in and splash around.

All of these factors combine to make the Puget Sound one of the most optimal places for kayaking in the country.

There are seemingly endless nooks and crannies to explore throughout the Sound, from picturesque little harbor towns like Gig Harbor, La Conner, and Friday Harbor, to major cities like Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle nudging up along the Puget Sound shorelines.

There are also numerous uninhabited islands and miles of remote shoreline that provide hours of perfect, timeless serenity on the water.

Late summer and early fall offer the best periods to explore the Puget Sound by kayak. Temperatures are at their highest and sunset doesn't come until past 8 o'clock. While temperatures begin to drop in lower regions of the country during this time, the higher latitude of the Puget Sound yields warmer weather later into summer and fall.

 ~ ©GRAHAM ULMERThere is just a brief window of time when one can explore the highest peaks of the Olympics without much snow. It is then that you can also expect long, warm, cloudless days with little wind on the water.

This allows for tabletop surfaces across the Sound and hours of smooth, unfettered paddling. When the water is so calm and the conditions so tranquil, you are unafraid to cross some of the wide channels that separate islands and peninsulas throughout the Sound.

While hugging the shoreline provides a satisfactory glimpse of the surroundings, navigating the middle of the Sound offers the most spectacular vantage points. It is also in the middle of the Sound that you can truly grasp the freedom that exists in a kayak.

Whereas on land you are confined by roads and signs, the water presents no such restrictions. In a kayak you can go in any direction you want at any time without fear of sirens blaring or horns honking. And within the Puget Sound, you are connected to every other major waterway on the planet. No other such waterway of its size exists within the continental United States.

 ~ ©GRAHAM ULMERAs can be expected, sea kayaking and its various cousins are quite popular in the area, with large paddling communities found up north in Seattle, Bellingham, and the San Juan Islands.

South Puget Sound, though less densely populated with paddlers, also offers magnificent vistas of the mountains and southern islands, as well as equally smooth paddling.

The channel that extends between Harstine Island (just north of Olympia), Squaxin Island, and the town of Grapeview provides a full 20 kilometers of flat, unhindered paddling where you may not see another soul for hours.

Heading north, once you make your way around the southern tip of the island, the Olympic Mountains will be staring you down, almost making you think you could paddle to the top.

The paddling potential in the Puget Sound is endless, and there is no one ideal location. Each area offers a mixture of paddling environments, sightseeing opportunities, and town life.

With one month of ideal weather left, late summer-early fall is the time to go explore the area. South Puget Sound is rife with islands, cool towns to explore, and many campsites for those on extended trips.

PUGET SOUNDOlympia makes an excellent point of embarkation. From there you can explore Harstine, Squaxin, Steamboat, and Hope Islands, as well as Boston Harbor. Beginning in the south, you can also ferry-hop your way up north or camp along a paddler's trail that extends all the way to Alaska.

Regardless of which part of the Sound you explore, the area is a must-do for kayakers worldwide. And there is no better time to explore it than Indian summer.

Graham UlmerAbout the author: Graham is a writer, coach, and paddler. One of his greatest joys in life is paddling long distances in his home waters of the Puget Sound. He also enjoys traveling and scoping out new and undiscovered paddling locations around the world.
Graham is a member of The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team.

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